Why Sprint's New $99 ZTE Optik Tablet is More Expensive Than the iPad

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For $99 bucks, Sprint's latest Honeycomb tablet, the ZTE Optik, brings a lot to the table. Hitting the carrier's stores on Sunday, February 5, the 7-inch slate runs Android Honeycomb and includes powerful components inside, but that cost of entry requires a two-year contract with Sprint that makes the Optik more expensive than any Wi-Fi only tablet you can buy.

Inside, the Optik sports a 1.2-GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, 7-inch 1280x-800-pixel WXGA screen, 16GB of storage, 1GB of RAM, a 5-megapixel back-facing camera, and 2-MP front-facing lens.

In the connections department, the Optik feels like a device from 2010 as it offers 802.11b/g, but not 802.11n Wi-Fi and access to Sprint's 3G network, with no 4G support. If you want a contract-free, Wi-Fi-only Optik, you'll pay $349. The Sprint 3G version is a wallet-friendly $99.

A hundred bucks seems affordable, but at that price, you'd also need to spring for a monthly 3G data plan. Sprint's cheapest plan is capped at 1GB for $20 a month with a max cap of 12GB for $80 a month. In between are monthly options for 3GB at $35 and 6GB for $50. That means at minimum, Optik buyers will pay $580 over two years, including the tablet. The figure climbs to nosebleed heights with the 3GB a month option: $940 over two years. And that's without faster 4G speeds.

By comparison, a competing subsidized tablet, the 7-inch Springboard for T-Mobile, costs $379 with a two-year contract. The cheapest data plan available to T-Mobile tablet owners is 2GB of data a month for$20, but over two years the total rises to $860, including the cost of the Springboard. A point of difference: The Springboard supports both T-Mobile's 3G and 4G data networks. 

Another alternative for Optik buyers is to connect the tablet to a Sprint smartphone's 3G/4G hotspot feature. Sprint ratcheted up prices for its hotspot service last fall, so it now costs $30 a month for 5GB, or an extra $720 on your smartphone bill. At least users will be able to take advantage of 4G speeds.

For those forgoing monthly contracts and hotspot plans, the ZTE Optik's Wi-Fi-only flavor is $349. That's about 80 bucks cheaper than another Wi-Fi only tablet, the 7-inch Toshiba Thrive, but way more expensive than the $199 Kindle Fire or $249 Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet.

At that price (and with its solid array of specs), the ZTE Optik looks to be a solid new Android tablet. But, if you're thinking of signing on, keep in mind that the costs over time will be much bigger than, say, buying a $499 iPad. 

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  • Sam Powers Says:

    Sprint has the cheapest tablet when you compare apples to Apple. ;-)

    The author skipped the comparison of features and the fact that tablets DO need to be connected at all times everywhere and Sprint's 3G network is pretty reliable. Being connected is the whole point of a tablet.

  • Rob Molloy Says:

    Awful pseudo-journalism.

  • Brad Linder Says:

    Wouldn't the proper comparison be between $349 for a 3G capable, but unsubsidized tablet and a $499 Apple iPad? In that case the Optik is cheaper.

    Or you could compare it with a 3G capable 16GB iPad which costs $629 up front and a minimum of $15/month for 250MB of data which means that at the end of a 2-year contract the iPad costs $989 compared with $580 for an Optik plus 1GB of data.

    Either way, I'm not seeing how the iPad is cheaper.

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